With every game that Indiana plays this season, we'll take a pregame look at five keys that the Hoosiers will need to be successful.
Here's the five keys for today's game with Michigan State:
1. RUN THE BALL Easier said than done on several fronts. Michigan State's defense is the best in land at stopping the run. The Spartans are only giving up 51.2 yards on the ground per game. And this isn't a particularly strong Indiana running team. The Hoosiers have put up some decent numbers at time but that has been because IU has been able to break a big play or two. Against this particular defense, those kinds of runs are going to be increasingly difficult. Still, if there was one key to the game it would simply be that Indiana needs to be balanced on offense or the Michigan State defense will put the IU offense in too many predictable situations.
2.KEEP SUDFELD UPRIGHT This is a big game for the Indiana offensive line. If IU has any chance against a defense that is statistically the best in the nation, IU has to be able to throw the ball effectively. If the line gives Nate Sudfeld or Tre Roberson enough time the Hoosiers at least have a chance with as many offensive weapons as they possess. But if Sudfeld cannot get to his second and third progessions in a game like this, Indiana could be in for a long afternoon.
3. PUT TOGETHER SOME SUSTAINED DRIVES One of Michigan State's most impressive statistics has been forcing opponents to three-and-out offensive series'. Michigan State ranks first in the nation in that category. Opponents have gone three-and-out against Michigan State 55 percent of the time this season. That's 7.6 three-and-out's per game. Last week against Iowa, the Hawkeyes went three-and-out 10-of-14 times against the Spartans. That number needs to be well under 50 percent today for Indiana to be able to hang with Michigan State.
4. THE DEFENSE NEEDS TO SCORE Michigan State's defense is tied for the national lead with four defensive touchdowns this season. Indiana needs to take a page out of that book today. Michigan State has been far from a world-beater on offense. With the exception of one game against Youngstown State, Michigan State has scored 26 points or less in the other four games. In those games, the Spartans have only outscored their opponents 86-50, an average of 21.5 points per game. If Michigan State is able to hold IU's potent offense in check, a defensive score could be the difference.
5. HANDLE BEING ON THE ROAD This is IU's sixth game of the season but the first time this year the Hoosiers have played somewhere other than the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium. Indiana has only won two games on the road in the Big Ten in the last 22 conference road games. So the deck is already stacked against the Hoosiers. A key in a game like this one will to be able to hang around and not let the game get away from them. If Indiana can hang around, the Hoosiers have a potent enough of an offense to play with anyone in the Big Ten.
Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch